Monday, August 05, 2013

There’s no good way to do this, but the Plain Dealer’s method is plainly a bad deal

Having been on both the giving and receiving end of the lay-off transaction, there is really no good way to do this.

Unless someone has another job lined up, or has volunteered for separation – as happened one of the times I was laid off (which made things easier for my boss and for HR: one less distraught and pissed-off ex-employee to deal with) – most people will not be jumping for joy when they’re let go.  And unless someone is heartless and/or a sadist, giving someone the news is a truly awful experience. (Heartless and/or sadists do, of course, exist. At one company I worked for, a fellow was laid off, via phone,  while standing outside the NICU where his newborn was struggling to stay alive. When the boss man got off the phone, the heartless and/or sadist remarked to a friend of mine how much he enjoyed the process.)

So there’s really no good way to give someone the ‘hit the road, Jack’ news.

But, unless someone works remotely, it really should be face to face, up close and personal.

Not done via e-mail. Not done via text. Not done via phone.

That said, one of my lay-off notices came over the phone, and I was just fine with it.

The action had been anticipated for a long time – my team was being wiped out after an acquisition in which the acquired company turned out to be following the script of The Invasion of the Body Snatchers or maybe it was  Aliens. Anyway, they were hell bent on ousting anyone they didn’t think they’d be able to possess, and I found myself on the list.

As noted, I was expecting the news, and when my soon-to-be-ousted boss called me on my work-from-home Friday, I was not surprised. I was also happy to be able to give a head’s up – via IM, while I was in the process of being fired – to two friends and colleagues who I figured were also on the list. (Indeed they were.)

But this was a special circumstance, and I didn’t mind at all.

I chugged into the office to pick up my personal effects – what few there were; by that point, I had pretty much packed it in – and that was that.

In most cases, however, I think that a phone call is a poor substitute for look-me-in-the-eye human interaction.

A phone call, however, was the method of choice for the Cleveland Plain Dealer. Although as many of half of those canned had volunteered for it, this still seems like anything but plain dealing to me.

Yesterday [July 31], between 8 a.m. and 10 a.m., 50 editorial staffers at the Plain Dealer in Cleveland got the ax—not face to face but by phone, at home. They were then asked to collect their severance materials the next day, not at the office but at the paper’s production center, which is about 10 miles away.  (Source: Business Week.)

If you’re a journalist these days, losing your job has to be anything but a shocker. In the case of Plain Dealer writers, they knew that something was coming, and they knew that the paper was scrunching down from a daily print addition to a combo someday print/everyday online.

Still, a phone call? And not being allowed to go back into the office to make your farewells?

I know, it’s bad for morale to have all those ex-es floating around, with their long faces, and black-humor jokes about where, after the plane crash on the border, they bury the survivors. But that pain is a cost of doing business, I’m afraid, ugly, necessary, cathartic…

Terry Egger, president and publisher of Plain Dealer Publishing, said in a statement that these “difficult but necessary staffing decisions” are required “to realign our workforce for future growth.”

Ah, where I have a heard that bunch o’malarkey before?

Oh, at just about every lay off I got through dead or alive.

Then there was the requisite ave atque vale ending to the memo that had gone out asking employees to hang by their phones from 8-10 a.m. on D-Day to see whether they should bother coming into work that day.

We sincerely regret having to go through this process and we thank all who are impacted for their years of service and wish them all the best for their future.

It’s always so touching when a grateful nation thanks you, isn’t it?

The Plain Dealer was working with a company called Right Management, which just may have been the outfit George Clooney was working for in the movie Up in the Air.

Having worked with a couple of outplacement groups, I know that they can be quite wonderful, and a big help.

Their good points are, of course, somewhat offset by the bromides, euphemisms, and gumbo-speak that seem to go along with them.

Our firm has earned its reputation as a leader in talent and career management through the sustained excellence of our execution, for our responsiveness, and for the wisdom of our counsel. The scope and scale of our capabilities and solutions are unparalleled in our industry. We can provide borderless strategies and total workforce solutions, no matter what your industry or where you are in the world.

Remind me never to use the word “unparalleled” when I’m talking about any of my clients or their products and services, will you?

How do you help employees transition to new career opportunities?

Your organization’s workforce is a dynamic asset, requiring constant adjustments in response to changing marketing conditions and emerging business opportunities.

Dynamic asset, indeed.

One of Right’s services is “notification support.”

We have more than 30 years of experience in both well-established and innovative techniques to support your company during the entire process from notification to separation. We’ll be there to address employee reactions, counsel them toward their next steps, and connect them with Right Management for a supportive career transition.

I don’t know about you, but I find that “innovative techniques” thang a bit frightening.

I suspect that notification phone calls are part of the established techniques. Even e-mail might be considered old hat by this point. Maybe even a text message.

But what might be some “innovative techniques”?

Tweets with a tiny URL listing those being hosed?

Finding the handwriting on your Facebook wall?

Instagram pic of your severance package?

YouTube announcements?

And how about a reality show. Suggested name: Pink Slip.

Perhaps it’s just that I’m hopelessly old school.

Maybe the millennials, so used to doing everything on an electronic device, will be just as happy to lose their jobs that way, too.

Me? When it comes to lay-offs, I’m a face to face kind of guy.


Remember the joke about the singing telegram? Your sister Rose is dead…

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